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Kenyan Election Watch: The women have it — Female candidates dominate like never before

With the presidential results in and Kenyans finally on the other end of a long election tally there are some victories to embrace. Women have dominated the polls by securing seats that have never been held by a woman and gaining overwhelmingly community support, with some counties choosing women for their entire leadership suite. 

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When the government introduced a constitutionally mandated gender quota rule in 2010, in a bid to tone down male dominance in positions of power, it was ridiculed in the same way that any affirmative action policy is. The conflicting views are that it undermines meritocracy and perpetuates reverse discrimination. Which of course are arguments that overlook the need for diversity, representation, and the ‘tyranny of numbers’ that favours the majority regardless of merit or feasibility. They also assume that affirmative action somehow makes it easier for individuals to secure reserved roles and positions.

In the Kenyan job market, the number of qualified and viable candidates vastly supersedes the number of available opportunities. Therefore, candidates are more likely to experience harmful recruitment practices to even be considered. Add gender, restrictive cultural norms, and politics to that cocktail and you can be assured that female politicians do not just land in their seats because of a ubiquitous superficial quota.

Female candidates contend with huge nomination fees and fewer resource endowment for campaigning, the societal value assumption that men are better suited to politics and winning elections, and the sexualisation that comes with this skewed value system, opaque nomination processes, and management frameworks that malign and reduce their success rates.

Photo credit: Martha Karua SC @MarthaKarua

Not to mention that the traditional conservative norms of female subservience are compounded by a deeply ingrained patriarchal mentality. A good example of this is in the case of Deputy President aspirant Martha Karua and the results of the Kirinyaga County gubernatorial race. Here Karua, who had the opportunity to become Kenya’s first female DP, lost the Governorship in her home county. Although another woman won it could be argued that the lack of overwhelming support for Karua was because the populace could not divorce the candidate from her affiliations or buy into her larger aspiration.

It is therefore impressive that despite the numerous barriers and biases, women managed to shine in this year’s general election. We will get to see if a more gender-balanced government can improve the lives of Kenyans.


The women have it!

According to results from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), at least 7 of Kenya’s 47 incoming governors are women, compared with only three in the last government. So far, IEBC has also declared 22 women Members of Parliament and 1 senator.

Let’s explore some of the historic and significant wins.

Overwhelming community support

  • Nakuru county set itself apart from other devolved regions by having the highest number of elected women. Eight women who contested seats from the top most, Office of the Governor to the Member of County Assembly position, are waiting to be sworn in.

They are Susan Kihika (Governor), Tabitha Karanja (Senator), Liza Chelule (Woman Rep), Charity Kathambi (Njoro MP), Martha Wangari (Gilgil MP), Irene Njoki (Bahati MP), Grace Mwathi (Bahati MCA) and Jayne Kihara (Naivasha MP).

Jayne Kihara, MP

Not only did they win, but they completely crushed their male opponents. The Citizen reported that Susan Kihika edged out her closest competitor and incumbent Governor Lee Kinyanjui with 440,707 to 225,623 votes. And Tabitha won over her closest rival, Jubilee’s Lawrence Karanja 442,864 to 163,625 votes.

  • In Machakos, voters also overwhelmingly elected women to the key positions of governor and senate. Governor-elect Wavinya Ndeti beat former State House Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita to become the first woman Governor of Machakos, while Agnes Kavindu retained her Senator seat.
  • Phyllis Bartoo is the MP-elect for Moiben Constituency. She beat two men to replace Silas Kipkoech, who has served for two terms. Bartoo, a linguistics lecturer at Egerton University, garnered 40,982 votes against Tiren’s 8,790 votes. After the announcement, she promised to prioritise agriculture and the empowerment of women and people with disabilities.

Wavinya Ndeti. Photo credit: Wavinya Ndeti via Facebook.

Conservative Communities showing progress

  • Agnes Pareiyo became the first woman to become the MP-elect for Narok North. The female genital mutilation (FGM) crusader beat six 6 men to clinch the seat by garnering 20,821 votes while her closest rival lawyer Martin Kamwaro got 18,822 votes. Analysts say that she has proven that the conservative Maasai community can elect a female legislator and is ushering in a new dawn for the girl child in pastoral communities.

Speaking after her win she said, “Coming from a conservative community that could not believe that a woman can be elected to such a position is not easy. I fought hard… My vying for this position was to encourage all women to rise up and fight for their rights. Women should fight to be on the decision-making table.”

  • Voters in Lamu East elected their first woman member of Parliament. In an Islamic region and a hotly contested seat, Jubilee Party’s Cpt. Ruweida Mohamed Obo won 5,498 votes over the incumbent, Mr. Sharif Athman Ali’s 4,633 votes.

“I was the only female contestant in this race, but I wasn’t deterred. I knew the time had come for Lamu East Constituency to vote for change. I thank all for believing in women’s leadership.” She said when receiving her certificate. “I want to assure you that I will do all it takes to ensure that the constituency attains the change you deserve in terms of education, security, infrastructure, health, water, and fisheries, among other development initiatives,” said Ms. Obo.

Youth Leaders taking the stage

  • Linet Chepkorir ‘Toto’ made history by becoming the youngest Woman Representative-elect. The 24-year-old graduate beat eight older candidates to become the third Woman Representative in Bomet County. In a county with 376,985 registered voters, she garnered 242,775 votes against her closest rival, Dr. Alice Milgo of Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM), who secured 43,180 votes.

The Nation detailed that while her opponents had the financial means and resources to comfortably vie for the seat, she walked or took public transport to all the campaign venues.

“I don’t take it for granted that I got the backing of voters from across the political divide. I promise them that I’ll do my best to deliver on my mandate,” the MP-elect said. Her first agenda, she said, will be to sponsor a Bill in Parliament to compel the government to supply free sanitary pads to girls across the country.

Honourable mentions: Beatrice Elachi (Dagoretti North), Amina Mnyazi (Malindi), Rosa Buyu (Kisumu West), Millie Odhiambo (Suba North), Maryanne Keittany (Aldai), Agnes Pareio (Narok North), Naisula Lesuuda (Samburu West, Susan Kiamba (Makueni), Edith Nyenze (Kitui West), Eve Obara (Kasipul Kabondo), Alice Wahome (Thika), Mishi Mboki (Likoni), Wamaua (Maragwa), Gathoni Wamuchomba (Githunguri), Jane Kihara (Naivasha), Alice Wahome (Kandara), Wanjiku Muhia (Kipipiri), Rachel Nyamai (Kitui South), Jessica Mbalu (Kibwezi East), Mary Emaase (Teso South), Lillian Gogo (Rangwe), Janet Sitienei Turbo and Elizabeth Kathambi Kailemia (Meru).

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